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Anuak Justice Council provides well, books in Ethiopia

Every morning, Agwa Taka wakes up in Spokane asking, “What is one thing can I do for my people, the Anuak, today?”

Anuak well

Anuak well

Of the 150,000 Anuak, 1,100 have been killed during and since a December 2003 massacre in western Ethiopia.  Many are in refugee camps over the border in Sudan.

One thing Agwa did was help form the Anuak Justice Council (AJC) in November 2004 in Spokane.  Another thing he did was join an AJC team visiting a refugee camp in Southern Sudan in February.

Overwhelmed by the plight of his people there, he apologized to them for not coming sooner.

Agwa joined photojournalist Rachel Havercroft; Lawrence Hudson, pastor of First Covenant Church; Bill Nixon,  videography teacher at the University of Saskatchewan, and Obang Metho, who lives in Saskatchewan and heads international advocacy for the AJC, for what Lawrence described as “a dangerous trip to a war-torn county.”

The Anuak people are a persecuted ethnic minority residing on long-held territory in Ethiopia.  In the 1990s, about 150 were killed in a massacre at Gambella in western Ethiopia near the Sudanese border. 

On Dec. 13, 2003, 425 people, mostly educated men, were killed in a massacre.  Despite efforts of individuals around the world and the involvement of international human rights organizations, Genocide Watch and Human Rights Watch, the killings have continued, said Lawrence.

Anuak well line

Line of people waiting for water.

“While it is genocide at it’s worst,” he said, “we have caught it early, so we can do something.  We’re involved here in Spokane because we are one of the few communities in the United States with Anuak residents.”

John Frankhauser of First Presbyterian Church—which sponsored Agwa as a refugee 15 years ago—Agwa, Lawrence and others in Spokane were instrumental in bringing Anuak and their friends from around the world to Spokane to form the Anuak Justice Council.  

The AJC rallies international support to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to end the persecution and bring the perpetrators to justice. 
More than 10,000 Anuak are now in refugee camps in Kenya and Southern Sudan. 

The refugees in Sudan have formed the Alari camp. It is not recognized by the United Nations because it is close to a Sudanese Anuak village and is not far enough from the Ethiopian border. 

The people there receive little international assistance, Lawrence said.
The goal of the mission team was to bring hope to the refugees, by letting them know that the world is aware of their plight and by offering some concrete aid, he explained. 

“We arrived to find the situation grave,” he described.  “Refugees in the camp use World Food Program bags or anything they can find to make their shelters.

“Contaminated water is a serious problem. Many illnesses the refugees endure are related to the water.  They suffer from parasites, diarrhea and intestinal problems.  One well serves 10 to 15 thousand people,” he said.

Lawrence saw that the refugees spend much of their time waiting.  With only one well, people come and wait hours for their turn to draw water. 

The group concluded that a new well would provide clean water, end suffering from water-borne diseases and allow people to grow crops. 
“Fixing one problem such as that can fix other problems.  Restoring the people to their land, however, will require a change of heart by the Ethiopian government,” he said. “If you pull a blade of grass out of the ground there, everything comes with it.  It’s political, economic, religious, geographic, tribal and racial.”

The local health center is overwhelmed.  It serves more than 2,000 patients a month.  Again, the refugees must wait, standing or sitting in long lines to be seen and treated.

The AJC team learned about the daily lives of the Anuak.  Their meals are simple—beans, rice and meat.  Children use clamshells for spoons.

Rachel Havercroft

Rachel Havercroft

Rachel learned that in Africa, people find out what the people’s needs are by sitting a while under a tree and talking with them about “everything under the sun” before they discuss their needs.

She was impressed with the strength of the women she met, reporting, “Women marry young, work hard from early morning to late at night just to feed the family.

"They often carry loads of up to 80 pounds on their heads.  They are strong and tenacious.”
Lawrence felt the isolation of the region.  

“This is an area of the world where people travel by walking or flying.  The good road has eye-level grass, and you can’t see the tracks.  There is no consulate or embassy near.  We were told to go to an air strip if trouble occurred,” he said.

Worship at the refugee camp was lively and crowded.  The Anuak give generously to the church in spite of their poverty.  One woman put a handful of corn into the offering gourd.

Agwa and King

Team member meets with king.

While there, the team had an audience with the Anuak king.  He told then that he yearns for peace, opportunity and service in the government.  He dreams of a time of restoration, when the Anuak will be treated as equals. 

The team used part of the money they had collected in Spokane  to help build a tuberculosis treatment clinic and a storage building for grain.

One day, Obang invited Lawrence to meet someone under a tree. 
The person was the wife of the governor of Gambella, who heard that Americans had come and decided to walk to the camp in the heat with her five children.

 Her husband is in Norway.  He had stood up against the government, when everyone was encouraged to say that “nothing happened” in Gambella in December. 

The governor was unwilling to say that at a meeting.  On a break, he called a contact in Norway, who told him to leave immediately, Lawrence said. 
If the governor had gone back to the meeting, he would have been killed.  He had to leave without his wife and children.

The team offered her some of the funds they brought, so she and the children could fly to Nairobi and complete paperwork to join her husband in Norway.

Bucket lineup

Buckets hold places in line.

Since returning to Spokane, the group has chosen two projects to support. 

1) They have collected funds and purchased schoolbooks for children in four schools in the region. The schools have teachers but no books.

2) They will raise $20,000 of the estimated $60,000 needed to provide new wells in Algi.  The remaining amount will come from the United Nations High Council for Refugees and other groups.

The council continues to raise funds for Obang’s efforts to build international support to pressure the Ethiopian government to stop the persecution and genocide.

  Members of the mission team are available to speak and show slides to congregations and organizations interested in learning more about the Anuak.

For information, call 747-1058.

Photos by Rachel Havercroft
By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor -Copyright © June 2005